Canada-U.S. border security 'unacceptably ineffective': report

Two prominent American senators say a U.S. government watchdog's report should "sound a loud alarm" over security gaps along the U.S.-Canada border.

U.S. Senators call for greater coordination of security agencies

Two prominent American senators say a U.S. government watchdog's report should "sound a loud alarm" over security gaps along the U.S.-Canada border.

Senate Homeland Security chair Joseph Lieberman and Republican Senator Susan Collins said the report prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows American and Canadian agencies do not have the ability to detect illegal crossings of drugs, weapons and people along the vast majority of the border.

The report concluded just 50 kilometres along more than 6,400 kilometres of the border had reached an "acceptable level of security" in 2010.

Lieberman said the findings should send a message to the Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian government that more must be done.

"The GAO report makes clear that the defence of our northern border is nonetheless unacceptably ineffective," Lieberman said Tuesday in a press conference in Washington. "It's weak, weaker than it should be and needs to be."

It comes amid recent reports of discussion between Canada and U.S. that would see their security bureaucracies more interlinked.

Canadian officials have long been concerned that enhanced security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States would hinder the flow of daily trade between the two countries along the border.

The GAO report recommends increased inter-agency co-ordination with Canadian agencies in charge of border security and policing. 

Security operations had only reached "full situational awareness" along 1,620 of the estimated 6,400 kilometres of border, in which the probability of detecting illegal entry or activity is high, the report said.

Terror risk 'higher' from Canada: Lieberman

The report reviewed four sectors along the border that Department of Homeland Security identified as having a potential threat for "known terrorist and criminal organizations" smuggling drugs and people into the United States.

The sectors included the stretches of border between:

  • British Columbia, Oregon and Washington state;
  • Ontario and Great Lakes states, including Michigan, Ohio and Illinois;
  • Quebec, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Lieberman said that while Americans traditionally view their border with Mexico as more porous and dangerous, the report said the Homeland Security department has concluded the risk of "terrorist activity" across the northern border is actually higher than across the southern border.

"Why? Because there are more Islamist extremist groups in Canada than Mexico," Lieberman told reporters.

Despite their concerns, the senators said they are not proposing moving patrols from the U.S.-Mexico border to guard the northern border.

The issue of a continental security perimeter is expected to be on the agenda when Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington later this week.